In my free time I love to play Cities Skylines. It’s a lot like Sim City but add a little ✨spice ✨.
In the game you essentially build a city but need to think about urban planning, traffic and road placement, taxation, public services, public transportation and more as your city grows. If you want to build a functioning city, thinking like a content strategist can help.
The thing that fascinates me the most about Cities: Skylines is the traffic simulation. While it is of course not a realistic simulation of real life traffic, it does a well enough job to make it feel realistic. The thing that makes traffic in Cities: Skylines so tricky is that it is very easy to build a city that gets really bad traffic jams and gridlocked traffic. The key to better traffic in the game is to carefully think about road sizes, junctions and where your public services are located. How much public transport ist there? Do your citizens need to drive everywhere with their own car? Does industrial traffic go right through your city center, where all the tourists also want to go? The solution is often similar to workflows in content strategy.
In content strategy you want your content to fulfill a purpose and to ultimately help you reach a goal. This goal could be a higher traffic on your homepage, more sales or a higher brand awareness. To reach that goal every piece of content you produce needs to be carefully curated and targeted. Otherwise you waste potential and in the worst case you produce content that has the opposite effect. Bad content can have a lot of reasons but often it’s bad communication, silos in departments or micro managing by the supervisor. Often clear roles and an efficient, defined workflow across departments can work wonders. Especially when you have done your homework and know your goal and exactly how to communicate to your target audience.
The YouTube channel Biffa Plays does great traffic fix videos, where he fixes the traffic jam of other players and how he goes about is a lot like you would thry to fix a problem in content strategy and to a further extent also in governance – which is a very important but often overlooked part of content strategy.
So what exactly does Biffa do, when he fixes traffic?
First of all he tries to figure out what the main problems are. The game gives tools to view where the traffic is the worst and also to show where traffic is coming from and where it is headed to. In content strategy we often like to talk about the user journey and if you want to compare it to a commuting person, your user also often struggles with a complicated and long road towards what they want. So you need to think about what your user wants and needs? How can you lower hurdles and frustration the user has while interacting with your content or product? In the case of Cities: Skylines the answer often is roundabouts. They are the easiest way to produce a better traffic flow, but of course one or two roundabouts at a busy intersection will not fix bad traffic.
In content strategy this would be the stage of audits, usabiliy tests, card sorting, interviews and so on. This is what you do to figure out what the problem is and to learn about your goals. Often you can fix a lot of things with a redesign of parts of your homepage or an updated persona for your target audience. That’s what I call the roundabouts of content strategy. It makes traffic flow and might seem like an easy fix, but if there are deeper lying problems like bad urban planning or inappropriate road layout this will not work and you’ll soon end up with worse traffic than before.
What you need is to understand problems and to change accordingly. Public transport also helps to reduce traffic, but if you do not carefully plan the lines and manage the number of vehicles, your roads will be blocked by an overflow of busses.
So what does Biffa do after analyzing what the problem is? He starts where it all begins and then follows the (as we like to say in German) rat’s tail while implementing the appropriate solutions. Sometimes that works, but sometimes he needs to go back later and change the fix he implemented, because it turned out to be the wrong solution for this problem. And that is exactly what we also do in content strategy. We think about where and when our content needs to be, in order to fulfill its purpose. We think about the workflow and the people that are needed to produce the content, we think about the imagery, the wording, the tone of voice, the channels where we put it on.
We implement and we reevaluate. And in the end, we start all over again. Because like growing cities, content is also ever evolving, changing over time, causing new challenges for us to fix.